Exchange student visit was great

Earlier this year, in May, I had an amazing opportunity – to host a Central American for a week through the Central American Youth Ambassadors program through Northern Michigan University. Twenty-four Central Americans from various Central American countries would be visiting Marquette for a week.

Before I met Maria, a Guatemalan student, who my family would be hosting, I was somewhat nervous. I was worried that my Spanish would suck and that I would not be able to communicate well with her. I told my mom about my fears and she convinced me that if my Spanish wasn’t sufficient, I would find a way to get better. That couldn’t have been truer. I ended up surprising my mom and myself at how well I could speak Spanish and understand it. There were a couple of times when I couldn’t understand Maria very well, but she helped me.

On the first day of Maria’s visit, something went a little awkwardly at my house. My mom usually speaks Chinese to me so that I could learn Chinese, so she naturally spoke Chinese to me that day also. However, in the first couple of hours of Maria’s arrival, my mom ended up speaking some Chinese to her, too. I was surprised and when I heard her, I pretty much just screamed, “MOM!” I was a little embarrassed at that but, luckily, I don’t think Maria really knew if my mom was speaking English or Chinese. We had a good laugh when we all figured out what was happening.

The week with Maria was amazing. She got to experience a band concert, which happened to have music that was really fun. During the week, Maria mostly was with the other Central Americans and the program organizers until 5 pm. After that, the hosts had to entertain the Central Americans at home. I told Maria about two songs that we sing in Spanish class at school. I also taught her how to count to 10 in Chinese and she taught me about the dialect of the Mayan language she speaks. Maria also helped me with some Spanish homework. We also watched Harry Potter movies in Spanish together. I could actually understand it pretty well.

There was one day of the week, Sunday, which was a “Homestay Day,” when the host families were supposed to do normal family things with the person or persons they hosted. Originally, my family was going to go hike up Sugarloaf Mountain with another host family, but the weather didn’t cooperate. We changed our plans. We ate lunch with Jessica Robyns and her family and the two students they were hosting. Jessica, her dad and their Central American students made a stew; my mom and I made a salad and strawberry shortcakes. After we ate lunch with them, we went bowling. To our surprise, many of the host families and their guests had the same idea.

As Sunday was also Mother’s Day, Maria got to experience an American-style Mother’s Day with us. She even made a card for my mom.

Maria was able to experience an American day at school. She went to every class with me and she got to meet some of my friends. While we were in Spanish class together, we were able to ask the CAYA students questions about their lives in Central America. We also got to eat Border Grill instead of school lunch.

Maria and I became super close. We exchanged gifts, which was really special. I gave her a photo album that had pictures of everything we did together that week. She gave me a scarf that had designs embroidered by her. We also exchanged email addresses to keep in touch.

Hosting a Central American was a wonderful experience. I gained more confidence speaking Spanish and my Spanish also improved. I would urge anybody to host someone from the CAYA program in the future. I absolutely loved everything about the week.

Editor’s note: GlenEllen Lehmberg, 15, is a sophomore at Marquette Senior High School. She is a longtime member of 8-18 Media and is also involved in dance and youth theater in her spare time. Her parents are Paul and Z.Z. Lehmberg of Marquette. 8-18 Media is a youth journalism program of the Upper Peninsula Children’s Museum. Through the program, teams of kids write news stories and commentaries on issues important to youth and about any good, or bad, things youth are up to. For more information call 906-226-7874, or email at